01/12/2022

Big Ten Power Rankings: Michigan leaps into top spot

As the Big Ten regular season enters its final phase, three teams have separated themselves from the rest.

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan remain the class of the conference despite last weekend’s early scares from Northwestern and Rutgers, respectively. Right behind them is No. 15 Penn State, the good-not-great third fiddle that fell short of toppling either giant but beats up on everyone else.

For a moment, No. 16 Illinois pushed its way toward the league’s upper echelon by rolling through the cannibalistic Big Ten West. But the Illini’s application for membership was declined following a deflating loss to Michigan State.

Here are the Big Ten power rankings ahead of Week 11: 

1. Michigan

Record: 9-0, 6-0 Big Ten
Last week: 52-17 win at Rutgers 
Up next: vs. Nebraska 
Previous ranking:

Michigan jumps ahead of Ohio State for the first time following a 52-17 shellacking of Rutgers on Saturday night. The Wolverines scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to turn a nip-and-tuck affair into another impressive blowout. Tailbacks Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards each ran for 109 yards as head coach Jim Harbaugh’s group continued to lean on its ground game, climbing to fourth nationally and second among Power 5 schools in rushing at 250 yards per game. Linebacker Michael Barrett notched two interceptions off erratic quarterback Gavin Wimsatt and returned one of them for a 31-yard touchdown. True freshman cornerback Will Johnson, a former five-star recruit and the jewel of Michigan’s 2022 recruiting class, snagged the first interception of his career as well. An enormous 282-14 edge in rushing yards coupled with a plus-3 turnover margin was more than enough for the Wolverines to offset an uncharacteristically poor performance on special teams, where kicker Jake Moody missed a pair of field goals and punter Brad Robbins had one of his attempts blocked and returned for a touchdown in the first quarter.  

Blake Corum punishes Rutgers’ goal-line defense

Blake Corum converted on fourth-and-goal to give Michigan an early 7-0 lead against the Rutgers on Saturday. 

2. Ohio State

Record: 9-0, 6-0 Big Ten 
Last week: 21-7 win at Northwestern
Up next: vs. Indiana
Previous ranking: 1

It would be easy to forgive the Buckeyes for their underwhelming performance at Ryan Field on Saturday amid sustained winds of 30 miles per hour and gusts that exceeded 50 mph — all while sheets of rain drenched the playing surface. But Ohio State is a Midwest team playing in a predominantly Midwest conference, so who’s to say the weather won’t be similar against Indiana next weekend or, more importantly, when Michigan visits Ohio Stadium later this month? Saturday’s narrow win over Northwestern reinforced the football adage that rushing attacks prevail in all conditions. It’s the reason Harbaugh believes so strongly in his ground game at a time when college football features more high-powered passing offenses than ever. In a conference like the Big Ten, where the weather can turn nasty in an instant, Harbaugh doesn’t want to be dependent on moving the ball through the air. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud completed just 10 of 26 passes for 76 yards and no touchdowns against Northwestern while the running game — headlined by tailback Miyan Williams (26 carries, 111 yards, two TDs) — accounted for 73.1% of the output. A weather-dependent offense is a risky business this time of year.

3. Penn State

Record: 7-2, 4-2 Big Ten
Last week: 45-14 win at Indiana 
Up next: vs. Maryland 
Previous ranking:

The Nittany Lions responded from their gutting, season-altering loss to Ohio State with an emphatic victory over the free-falling Hoosiers. Tailbacks Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton combined for 159 yards and four touchdowns as Penn State scored 38 unanswered points across the second, third and fourth quarters. Head coach James Franklin’s team outgained Indiana 483-196 in total yards and converted nine of 18 attempts on third and fourth down combined. Three different PSU defenders picked off passes to create a series of short fields on an afternoon when Indiana used three quarterbacks in place of injured starter Connor Bazelak. The game was so lopsided that Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was removed with more than a full quarter remaining to give true freshman Drew Allar some burn. Allar completed nine of 12 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns against an Indiana defense that sunk to 114th in scoring at 32.2 points per game. The Nittany Lions should be favored in each of their remaining games and have a good chance to finish 10-2 with their only losses to Michigan and Ohio State.  

4. Illinois

Record: 7-2, 4-2 Big Ten
Last week: 23-15 loss to Michigan State 
Up next: vs. Purdue
Previous ranking:

It was a crushing defeat for head coach Bret Bielema’s crew after an incredible start that saw the Illini debut at No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Illinois outgained the Spartans on the ground and through the air to finish with a 441-294 advantage in total yardage but converted just one of six attempts on fourth down to repeatedly give the ball back to Michigan State. After scoring the game’s opening touchdown on a beautiful 60-yard catch and run by wideout Isaiah Williams in the first quarter, the Illini didn’t score again until the 14:27 mark of the fourth. Star tailback Chase Brown gained 136 yards on 33 carries but failed to reach the end zone for the third time in the last four games. He was also involved in two of Illinois’ three fumbles (one traditional, one on a mishandled toss from quarterback Tommy DeVito) and finished with just 4.1 yards per carry — his lowest mark this season. The Illini have a one-game lead in the Big Ten West.  

RJ Young’s updated Top 25 rankings

RJ Young shares his Top 25 rankings after Week 10, placing two Big Ten teams in the top four.

5. Wisconsin

Record: 5-4, 3-3 Big Ten
Last week: 23-10 win vs. Maryland  
Up next: at Iowa 
Previous ranking:

Another game besieged by rainy and windy conditions reinforced the importance of a reliable rushing attack, which the Badgers used to bludgeon a Maryland team known for its aerial prowess. Tailbacks Braelon Allen and Isaac Guerendo both topped 100 yards and both scored a touchdown as Wisconsin built a 17-0 lead before halftime. An ineffective passing attack from quarterback Graham Mertz (5-for-18, 77 yards) was offset by a run game that averaged six yards per carry to keep the Terrapins at arm’s length. Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw for just 77 yards and nullified his only passing touchdown with a costly interception in the second half. With the win, Wisconsin’s interim head coach Jim Leonhard improved to 3-1 since replacing Paul Chryst last month. He continues to receive strong support from the Badgers’ locker room with outside linebacker Nick Herbig telling reporters “it blows my mind” that Leonhard hasn’t been given the job.

6. Minnesota

Record: 6-3, 3-3 Big Ten
Last week: 20-13 win at Nebraska 
Up next: vs. Northwestern 
Previous ranking:

Minnesota fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Nebraska before rallying with 20 unanswered points to secure its sixth win of the season. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim posted his 17th consecutive 100-yard game by rushing for 128 yards and two scores on 32 punishing carries. The Gophers maintained their composure after starting quarterback Tanner Morgan (6-for-8, 38 yards) exited with an injury on the final play of the first half. Backup Athan Kaliakmanis (6-for-12, 137 yards) produced scoring drives on four of his first five possessions as Minnesota maintained a healthy nine-minute advantage in time of possession. Head coach P.J. Fleck’s crew extended its pattern of bullying some of the lower-level teams in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Rutgers, Nebraska) while falling short against stiffer competition. The Gophers play two of their final three games at home.  

7. Iowa

Record: 5-4, 3-3 Big Ten
Last week: 24-3 win at Purdue 
Up next: vs. Wisconsin 
Previous ranking:

Credit head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff for responding to an ugly three-game losing streak with back-to-back wins over Northwestern and Purdue that showcased legitimate improvements on offense. One week after completing 70% of his passes for 220 yards and a score against the Wildcats, quarterback Spencer Petras turned another controlled performance by finishing 13-of-23 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He offered the perfect complement to an explosive running game spearheaded by freshman tailback Kaleb Johnson, who set a new career high with 200 yards and a touchdown on just 20 carries for a chunky average of 9.1 yards per attempt. Johnson became the first Hawkeye to run for 200 yards in the last seven years. An unwavering Iowa defense held Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell to 168 yards, zero touchdowns and a 46.5% completion rate. Linebacker Seth Benson and safety Kaevon Merriweather both notched interceptions as the Hawkeyes finished plus-2 in the turnover battle.

Kaleb Johnson goes 75 yards to the house!

Iowa’s Spencer Petras handed off to Kaleb Johnson for a 75-yard rushing touchdown against Purdue on Saturday.

8. Maryland

Record: 6-3, 3-3 Big Ten
Last week: 23-10 loss at Wisconsin 
Up next: at No. 15 Penn State 
Previous ranking:

Just like Ohio State quarterback Stroud, who finished with more rushing yards (79) than passing yards (76) this week, Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was handcuffed by poor weather conditions at Camp Randall Stadium. Tagovailoa completed just 10 of 23 passes for 77 yards, one touchdown and one interception in arguably his poorest outing since the first start of his career in 2020. The Terrapins only converted 29.4% of their third-down attempts and finished with one completion longer than 15 yards. Tailback Roman Hemby, who rushed for 286 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games, was limited to 66 yards on 16 carries and never found the end zone. Maryland already clinched bowl eligibility with its win over Northwestern last month, but a finishing stretch that includes Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers could prove taxing for head coach Mike Locksley. Regardless, the Terrapins will go bowling in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2013-14.

9. Michigan State

Record: 4-5, 2-4 Big Ten
Last week: 23-15 win at No. 16 Illinois 
Up next: vs. Rutgers 
Previous ranking: 11 

As single-game victories go, Michigan State’s triumph on the road against No. 16 Illinois is one of the more impressive results in the Big Ten this season. The Spartans traveled to Champaign marred by controversy following last week’s brawl in the Michigan Stadium tunnel, and head coach Mel Tucker tagged eight players with indefinite suspensions — including several defensive starters. But Tucker’s team scored 23 straight points to transform a 7-0 deficit into a commanding 23-7 lead against an Illinois offense that isn’t built to play from behind on the scoreboard. The Spartans scratched out 112 rushing yards and a touchdown against a run defense ranked fourth nationally by surrendering just 79.8 yards per game. Tucker’s team overcame a 147-yard deficit in total yardage by stopping the Illini five times on fourth down. With home games against Rutgers and Indiana in the next two weeks, Michigan State has a legitimate opportunity to reach bowl eligibility before the season finale at Penn State.

10. Purdue

Record: 5-4, 3-3 Big Ten
Last week: 24-3 loss vs. Iowa 
Up next: at No. 16 Illinois 
Previous ranking:

One week after losing ground in the Big Ten West with a 35-24 defeat to Wisconsin, the Boilermakers stumbled again in a disheartening loss to Iowa at home. Purdue fell behind 17-0 as the offense opened with three consecutive punts followed by back-to-back interceptions from quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who threw for a season-low 168 yards. The Boilermakers converted just a pair of third downs the entire game and turned the ball over on downs three times. A run defense that still ranks 25th nationally at 118.4 yards per game surrendered 200 yards and a touchdown to Iowa freshman Kaleb Johnson. Head coach Jeff Brohm’s group is one of four teams tied at 3-3 in the Big Ten West standings, and this week’s trip to division-leader Illinois could make or break the Boilermakers’ season.

11. Nebraska

Record: 3-6, 2-4 Big Ten
Last week: 20-13 loss vs. Minnesota 
Up next: at No. 5 Michigan  
Previous ranking: 10 

Another week, another narrow defeat for interim head coach Mickey Joseph. Nebraska has dropped three consecutive games to Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota by 30 combined points with two of those losses ending as one-score defeats. Without starting quarterback Casey Thompson, who suffered a nerve injury to his throwing arm against Illinois, the Cornhuskers turned to freshman Chubba Purdy, a former four-star recruit who transferred from Florida State. Purdy played poorly enough in the first half to warrant a platoon system in the second, alternating series with fellow reserve Logan Smothers. The pair combined to finish 11-of-26 for 121 yards, one interception and zero touchdowns, and the offense gained just 267 yards overall. Nebraska has now lost five of its last seven games and travels to Michigan next week.  

12. Rutgers

Record: 4-5, 1-5 Big Ten
Last week: 52-17 loss vs. No. 5 Michigan 
Up next: at Michigan State 
Previous ranking: 12 

The Scarlet Knights deserve credit for how hard they played in a game that was close through two quarters but ended as a blowout loss to Michigan. A brilliant special teams play tilted momentum in Rutgers’ favor when defensive back Timmy Ward returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7. From there, head coach Greg Schiano’s team cobbled together two scoring drives to build a 17-14 lead while holding Michigan to seven points over the final 20 minutes of the first half. But the slim advantage quickly eroded in the second half when U-M tailbacks Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards both found the end zone early in the third quarter. The Wolverines exploded for 38 points in the second half to overwhelm a lackluster Rutgers offense that turned the ball over three times, gained five first downs and finished with 180 total yards.

13. Northwestern

Record: 1-8, 1-5 Big Ten
Last week: 21-7 loss to No. 2 Ohio State 
Up next: at Minnesota 
Previous ranking: 14 

Unrelenting wind and rain at Ryan Field afforded Northwestern the ideal conditions to shock the college football world by upsetting No. 2 Ohio State. The Wildcats scored first on a 16-yard scamper by tailback Evan Hull (30 carries, 122 yards, 1 TD) and held the lead until the 2:26 mark of the second quarter, at which point OSU wideout Emeka Egbuka turned the corner to reach the end zone as a runner. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald maintained his aggressive approach by going for it on fourth down four times against the Buckeyes, and all four times the Wildcats were turned away — including three times on OSU’s side of the field. Northwestern’s total of 31 fourth-down attempts this season is tied for second nationally behind Texas Tech (42), but the conversion rate of 58.4% is tied for 58th overall and eighth in the Big Ten. Fitzgerald’s team has lost eight consecutive games.  

14. Indiana

Record: 3-6, 1-5 Big Ten
Last week: 45-14 loss vs. No. 15 Penn State 
Up next: at No. 2 Ohio State 
Previous ranking: 13 

The best way to describe the state of Indiana football is as follows: With starting quarterback Connor Bazelak unavailable for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, head coach Tom Allen replaced him with a player who announced his intention to enter the transfer portal two weeks ago. That player — senior quarterback Jack Tuttle — went on to injure his shoulder late in the second quarter and never returned. The Hoosiers were blown away by Penn State on both sides of the ball in a lopsided game that featured 38 straight points for the Nittany Lions from the second quarter through the fourth. Indiana finished with less than half of PSU’s total yardage and turned the ball over nearly as many times (three) as it converted on third down (four). Allen’s team has lost six consecutive games and finishes with Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue.

Read more:

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.


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